Cav Wine Bar

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REVIEW Maybe it's the flight of robust German reds talking, but Cav seems like the sleekest, yet somehow the most laid-back, entry in the recent rush of wine bar openings. (Is there, like, a wine bar mafia hiding out here lately?) While other new oenophile venues certainly have their particular charms, Cav's the only one that aims for hipness without turning class into sass.

Owners Pamela S. Busch and Tadd Cortell have fashioned a list with global reach (Portugal, Australia, the surprising Germany) that highlights the adventurously cozy and pairs it with a full menu of worldwise California fare — gnocchi with crayfish and sunchokes ($7.50/$15), lamb osso buco with creamy semolina polenta ($10/$20), both available as tapas or main courses. Along with the quiet, humming atmosphere, outgoing staff, and clean-lined, low-lit interior (like being on "a train ride for taste buds," as a friend described it), this makes Cav a perfect date place — strange wines to talk about and comfy food to share. Another bonus: Because Cav focuses on little-known foreign regionals, there's no pressure to look like an expert. Menu and flights change weekly. (Marke B.)

CAV WINE BAR Mon.–Sat., 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m.
Kitchen closes 11 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., midnight Fri.–Sat.
1666 Market, SF. (415) 437-1770, www.cavwinebar.com. D/MC/V, $$$